Photo/Jennifer Leigh Martens

'A People of Diversity' Conference at the University of Winnipeg, Nowember 17th 2018

It has never really been part of the Mennonite habit to seek out the spotlight. And the public’s eye rarely seeks out those who used to be called “the quiet in the land” anyways. In Manitoba, however, things can be different. With Canadian Mennonite University, Menno Simons College and the MCC Canada head office, any Winnipegger would know something about Mennonites. Even the University of Winnipeg has a Mennonite Studies program.

As a matter of fact, I was there last November for a conference on Mennonite history held at the University of Winnipeg to present a paper on the development of the Mennonite Brethren Church in Québec. In French Canada, even in Christian circles, very few people know who the Mennonites and Mennonite Brethren are. So, I was surprised when Radio-Canada (the French CBC) asked the host of the symposium for an interview in French. As the only Francophone presenter and member of the Mennonite Historical Society of Canada, my name came up along Richard Lougheed. We are both historians and representatives of the Québec Mennonite Brethren board.

I had good reasons to be nervous (Richard never gets nervous…). For one, I was very focused on my presentation of the next day. Also, we did not know the questions in advance. What if I fail to respond smartly and embarrass myself during the interview? And it would be our first experience on the air! Once we got to the Radio-Canada building on Portage Avenue we were directed to the studios floor. The radio show host was a Quebecer who had been working in Manitoba for over thirty years. She scribbled on a sheet a bit of information to introduce us, we did a short soundcheck and, that’s it, we were on the air!

The first questions gave us the opportunity to explain where Anabaptist groups came from, and to trace their origins back to the Reformation Era. We were also able to nuance the stereotypical image the public generally holds on Mennonites and Amish: the old-fashioned garments, the horse and buggies and so on. Nowadays, Mennonites form a very diverse group culturally and theologically.

Not just as a historian but also as staff, I was happy to highlight the Mennonite Central Committee’s global influence through its humanitarian work internationally. As an organization that embodies the social dimension of the Anabaptist churches, MCC also shows how the many Anabaptist groups cooperate under one umbrella despite theological and cultural differences.

We hardly can assess the impact of the interview. Although Radio-Canada is a great national media, a 25 minutes interview soon falls into oblivion amid the flow of daily information. For this reason, we wish to share it again in the hope that readers will enjoy. Listen to the interview!